Equal Partners
by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners

By Roland Ezri

"Women are the backbone of all societies. They do a substantial part of the work, and play a major role in raising the future generation yet they are largely powerless. The decisions that count are made by men and foisted upon women."

Writings by Roland Ezri

The Second Exodus – Egypt – XCI. My Years at 12A Rue Khantaret Ghamra – Entertainment (17 of 30)

Badia Masabni

Badia Masabni was a very important figure in the world of Egyptian art. I lost count of the number of times I heard my elders say: “If it wasn’t for Badia Masabni, we wouldn’t have this or that.” Masabni gave their first break to such luminaries as Isma’il Yassin, Aziz Osman, Samia Gamal, Tahia Carioca, Najma Ibrahim, Mohammed Fawzi, Farid El Atrash, Nelly Mazloum, Zinat Sidqui, and many others.

Badia produced a lot of successful plays with Naguib El Rihani. They eventually married, but it was a stormy marriage. Details of their relationship were discussed at great length, but out of the earshot of a small child of my age, or perhaps in my presence, but in one of the foreign tongues available to my relatives. Only years later, while I was in Israel, did I hear or read of the misadventures of Badia and Naguib, and many of the other performers who filled my childhood with tarab (good time).

She was born between 1892 and 1894, in Lebanon, at a time when it was still a part of Syria. Her real name is Theresa Mongi and her family is a mix of both Christian and Jewish ancestry. She lived in both Lebanon and Argentina before she came to Egypt early in the 20th century. She worked as an actress-dancer and quickly became successful. Blessed with an entrepreneurial spirit, Badia opened in 1926, in Cairo, a cabaret; she named it the “Opera Casino.” It also became known as “Badia’s Casino,” “Madame Badia’s Cabaret,” and other names.

Her nightclub featured dancing, singing, and comic and magic acts. Badia’s music-hall followed the pattern of European cabarets, this helped in attracting both Middle-Eastern and European audiences. Even more important, it gradually took Egyptian performing arts into a delightful new direction, a place where Oriental and European arts became blissfully wedded.

She expanded the horizons of Oriental dancing. Where before the belly dancer had a limited repertoire of arm movements, she presided over the evolution of a new type of dancing. She did that in two ways: First, getting the dancer to use the entire stage, instead of performing entirely on one spot. Second, she pioneered the use of choreography, previously, dancers mostly improvised.

Before I move on, a few details on Oriental dancing are in order.

El Raqs El Sharkia or Oriental dancing is a mix of grace and sexuality; subtle movements that are in perfect unison with the enchanting melody of the music provided by the oud (lute), tabla (Egyptian drum), and the tambourine.

Raqs Baladi (or just Baladi) is the popular name for it; it is also called Wahda Wous Nos (One And Half). Why one and half? I suspect it has to do with choreographic count.

Baladi dancing has existed in Egypt since Antiquity. It is difficult to conceive of any festive occasion without the Wahda Wous Nos. Without any formal lesson, young girls will learn it at a young age by emulating family and friends, or simply imitating professional performing on television. The moment there is any kind of eid (fete or celebration), they will tie a scarf around their waist and they’ll get going. There is probably a genetic dimension involved as well.

The story goes that after the revolution, Abdel Nasser stopped Badia’s income and was preparing to arrest her. But she managed to leave Egypt for Lebanon and took most of her money with her. As for the casino, she sold it for a tiny fraction of its market value.

The year of her passing was probably 1970.

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